- Baldeo – A watchman who was in charge of a tunnel through which trains used to pass. His duty was to inspect the tunnel for wild animals or any other obstructions. At the end he kills the man-eater tiger and gets killed in the struggle.
- Tembu – Watchman’s son, 12 years. he takes over his father’s duty after his death.
- The Tiger – A man-eater. It attacks Baldeo but gets killed by his axe.
- The story happens in a jungle.
- Baldeo’s hut – A very small hut on the outskirts of a jungle.
- There is a railway station at the edge of the village. It was not used by passengers. A few trains used to stop for a while at this station to get safety signals from Baldeo. There is a distance of 3 miles between Baldeo’s hut and the railway station.
- Tunnel – The tunnel connects Baldeo’s village and another village across the jungle.
- The story begins at night. It was a dark, cold night. The moon was not visible. There was deadly silence and stillness everywhere.
- Tembu, Baldeo’s son, opened his eyes and wondered if his father was ready to leave the hut. Baldeo had to go to the tunnel and inspect if there are any blockage in the tunnel. There were wild animals such as boar that used to enter the tunnel.
- Baldeo got up and got ready to go. Tembu was also ready to accompany his father but Baldeo discouraged him.
Questions & Answers
- Why did Baldeo long to go back to his hut? (did+long = longed)
Baldeo longed to go back to his hut because …
- Why did Baldeo disbelieve the existence of the man-eater tiger? (did+believe = believed)
Baldeo had been on duty hardly for a month. …
- The axe was very important for Baldeo. Explain.
- Baldeo wondered whether the lamp on the signal- post was still alight. Gathering his shawl closer about him, he stumbled on, sometimes along the rails, sometimes along the ballast. He longed to get back to his warm corner in the hut. The eeriness of the place was increased by the neighbouring hills which overhung the main line threateningly. On entering the cutting with its sheer rock walls towering high above the rails, Baldeo could not help thinking about the wild animals he might encounter. He had heard many tales of the famous tunnel tiger, a man-eater, which was supposed to frequent this spot; he hardly believed these stories for since his arrival at this place a month ago, he had not seen or even heard a tiger.
- There had, of course, been panthers, and only a few days ago the villagers had killed one with their spears and axes. Baldeo had occasionally heard the sawing of a panther calling to its mate, but they had not come near the tunnel or shed.
- Baldeo walked confidently for being a tribal himself, he was used to the jungle and its ways. Like his fore-fathers he carried a small axe; fragile to look at but deadly when in use.
- He prided himself in his skill in wielding it against wild animals. He had killed a young boar with it once and the family had feasted on the flesh for three days. The axehead of pure steel, thin but ringing true like a bell, had been made by his father over a charcoal fire. This axe was part of himself. And wherever he went, be it to the local market seven miles away, or to a tribal dance, the axe was always in his hand. Occasionally an official who had come to the station had offered him good money for the weapon, but Baldeo had no intention of parting with it.
- The cutting curved sharply, and in the darkness the black entrance to the tunnel looked up menacingly. The signal-light was out. Baldeo set to work to haul the lamp down by its chain. If the oil had finished, he would have to return to the hut for more. The mail train was due in five minutes.
- Once more he fumbled for his matches. Then suddenly he stood still and listened. The frightened cry of a barking deer followed by a crashing sound in the undergrowth, made Baldeo hurry. There was still a little oil in the lamp, and after an instant’s hesitation he lit the lamp again and hoisted it into position. Having done this, he walked quickly down the tunnel, swinging his own lamp, so that the shadows leapt up and down the soot-stained walls, and having made sure that the line was clear, he returned to the entrance and sat down to wait for the mail train.
- The train was late. Sitting huddled up, almost dozing, he soon forgot his surroundings and began to nod.
- Back in the hut, the trembling of the ground told of the approach of the train, and a low, distant rumble woke the boy, who sat up rubbing the sleep from his eyes. ‘Father, it’s time to light the lamp,’ he mumbled and then, realizing that his father had been gone some time, he lay down again, but he was wide awake now, waiting for the train to pass, waiting for his father’s returning footsteps.
- A low grunt resounded from the top of the cutting. In a second Baldeo was awake, all his senses alert. Only a tiger could emit such a sound There was no shelter for Baldeo, but he grasped his axe firmly and tensed his body, trying to make out the direction from which the animal was approaching.
- For some time there was only silence. Even the usual jungle noises seemed to have ceased altogether. Then a thump and the rattle of small stones announced that the tiger had sprung into the cutting.
- Baldeo, listening as he had never listened before, wondered if it was making for the tunnel or the opposite direction the direction of the hut, in which Tembu would be lying unprotected. He did not have to wonder for long. Before a minute had passed he made out the huge body of the tiger trotting steadily towards him. Its eyes shone a brilliant green in the light from the signal lamp. Flight was useless, for in the dark the tiger would be more sure-footed than Baldeo and would soon be upon him from behind. Baldeo stood with his back to the signal –post, motionless staring at the great brute moving rapidly towards him. The tiger, used to the ways of men, for it had been preying on them for years, came on fearlessly, and with a
quick run and a snarl struck out with its right paw, expecting to bowl over this puny man who dared stand in the way.
- Baldeo, however, was ready. With a marvellously agile leap he avoided the paw and brought his axe down on the animal’s shoulder. The tiger gave a roar and attempted to close in. Again Baldeo drove his axe which caught the tiger on the shoulder, almost severing the leg. To make matters worse, the axe remained stuck in the bone, and Baldeo was left without a weapon.
The tiger, roaring with pain, now sprang upon Baldeo, bringing him down and then tearing at his broken body. It was all over in a sharp few minutes. Baldeo was conscious only of a searing pain down his back, and then there was blackness and the night closed in on him forever.
- The tiger drew off and sat down licking his wounded leg, roaring every now and then with agony. He did not notice the faint rumble that shook the earth, followed by the distant puffing of an engine steadily climbing. The overland mail was approaching. Through the trees beyond the cutting as the train advanced, the glow of the furnace could be seen, and showers of sparks fell like Divali lights over the forest.
- As the train entered the cutting, the engine whistled once, loud and piercingly. The tiger raised his head, then slowly got to his feet. He found himself trapped like the man. Flight along the cutting was impossible. He entered the tunnel, running as fast as his wounded leg would carry him. And then, with a roar and a shower of sparks, the train entered the yawning tunnel. The noise in the confined space was deafening but, when the train came out into the open, on the other side, silence returned once more to the forest and the tunnel.
At the next station the driver slowed down and stopped his train to water the engine. He got down to stretch his legs and decided to examine the head-lamps.
- He received the surprise of his life; for, just above the cow-catcher lay the major portion of the tiger, cut in half by the engine. There was considerable excitement and conjecture at the station, but back at the cutting there was no sound except for the sobs of the boy as he sat beside the body of his father. He sat there a long time, unafraid of the darkness, guarding the
body from jackals and hyenas, until the first faint light of dawn brought with it the arrival of the relief-watchman.
- Tembu and his sister and mother were plunged in grief for two whole days; but life had to go on, and a living had to be made, and all the responsibility now fell on Tembu. Three nights later, he was at the cutting, lighting the signal-lamp for the overland mail.
- He sat down in the darkness to wait for the train, and sang softly to himself. There was noting to be afraid of – his father had killed the tiger, the forest gods were pleased; and besides, he had the axe with him, his father’s axe, and he now knew to use it.